The Plays of Philip Massinger, with Notes critical and explanatory. By W. Gifford Esq. 4 vol. 8vo. London.
It rarely happens that any person, who has indulged himself in severe reflections and dogmatical assertions on various subjects, can pass through life without occasionally running foul of some of his own sentences. The first work that brought Mr. Gifford's talents into public notice was the Baviad and Maeviad; a production which certainly displayed genius; but written in a style of satire so harsh and overbearing, that if the corrupt taste, which was spreading itself rapidly over the country, had not loudly called for animadversion, the public mind would probably have been disgusted by its asperity. The general object and aim of his satire was praiseworthy; but some passages seemed rather to have been dictated by moroseness, than by the fair spirit of enlightened censure. Of that nature we think the attack upon the harmless, if not laudable, amusement of Mr. Kemble, who collected old plays, which would otherwise in a few years have been lost for ever.
Others, like Kemble, on black-letter pore,
And, what they do not understand, adore;
Buy at vast sums the trash of antient days,
And draw on prodigality for praise.
"Though no great catalogue-hunter, I love to look into such marked ones as fall in my way. That of poor Dood's books amused me not a little. It exhibited many instances of black-letter mania; and, what is more to my purpose, a transfer of much trash of antient days to the fortunate Mr. Kemble. For example, First part of the Tragicall Raigne of Selimus Emperour of the Turks, £1. 11s. 6d." &c. &c. Baviad, v. 192.
For our part, we beheld with pleasure a distinguished actor expending a part of the hard-earned profits of his profession, in forming a collection, which may be beneficial to the stage. The generality of mankind are apt to squander their money in a manner much less reputable to themselves, or advantageous to the public. It is probable that most of the old dramas, which form his collection, may have little intrinsic merit, that many even may be replete with the most ludicrous absurdities, but their importance arises from the assistance which they may afford in illustrating the obscure, the unintelligible, the corrupt passages of the best contemporary writers; and we conceive that, when Mr. Gifford undertook his edition of Massinger, he must have repented him of that attack upon Mr. Kemble, not only as unmerited, but as precluding himself from the advantage of consulting his collection; a liberty which would otherwise in all probability have been willingly granted, if not voluntarily offered. That Mr. Gifford has felt the impropriety of that censure, we infer from the very high value which he now sets upon antient dramas; from the harshness with which he has handled Lord Lansdown, in the notes to his introduction, for not having printed three manuscript old plays, which probably few persons would have purchased, and fewer read; and from his calling Mr. Warburton a fool, for permitting his collection to be destroyed by the neglect, or rather by the officiousness of a servant. We must quote a part only of this long note, for we cannot afford space for all the invective that follows; but we think that those who will declaim at different times on both sides of a question, might at least assume a milder tone.
"When it is added that, together with these, 40 other manuscript plays of various authors were destroyed, it will be readily allowed that English literature has seldom sustained greater loss than by the strange conduct of Mr. Warburton, who, becoming master of those treasures which ages may not reproduce, lodges them, as he says, in the hands of an ignorant servant; and when, after a lapse of years, he condescends to visit his hoards, finds that they have been burnt, from an economical wish to save him the charges of more valuable brown paper! It is time to bring on shore the book-hunting passenger in Locher's Navis Stultifera, and exchange him for one more suitable to the rest of the cargo. Tardy, however, as Mr. Warburton was, it appears that he came in time to preserve three dramas from the general wreck; — the second Maid's tragedy, the Bugbears, and the Queen of Corsica. These, it is said, are now in the library of the Marquis of Lansdown, where they will probably remain in safety till moths or damps or fires mingle their forgotten dust with that of their late companions. When it is considered at how trifling an expense a manuscript play may be placed beyond the reach of accident, the withholding it from the press will be allowed to prove a strange indifference to the antient literature of the country." &c.
We regret, indeed, that these three plays were withheld (if so they were) from Mr. Gifford's examination; we regret that Mr. Kemble's library was closed against him by his own impetuosity, — on account of the benefit, which might otherwise have accrued to his edition of Massinger. Under all these disadvantages, however, Mr. Gifford has certainly produced a valuable edition of these dramas. That of Coxeter was very incorrect; and the idle liberties which Mr. Mason had taken in altering the text of Massinger, and overturning the metre, were very numerous; and it required considerable acuteness and attention to restore it to its original purity. This, however, has been in a great degree effected by Mr. Gifford's diligence in collating the text with the oldest editions, that had been altogether neglected by Mason. We are sorry, nevertheless, that it is not in our power to bestow the unqualified praise of accuracy, even upon this editor; who has fallen sometimes into errors, which should have made him more lenient to the mistakes of those who preceded him in this undertaking: and we regret that, instead of aiming at the fair fame which he might have gained by the production of a very improved edition, he should have made his notes the vehicle of satirical animadversions upon the former editors, and appear to have been more anxious to exhibit the absurdities of other writers, than to enrich his publication with annotations which might have been useful to the reader. It would be difficult to bring together more errors than are contained in the following note by Mr. Gifford; and they are the more striking as the note is almost superfluous.
In those three memorable overthrows
At Granson, Morat, Nancy, where his master,
The warlike Charalois, lost treasure, men and life.
"These were indeed memorable, since they were given by ill-armed and undisciplined rusticks (invigorated indeed, by the calm and fearless spirit of genuine liberty) to armies superior to themselves in numbers, and composed of regular troops from some of the most warlike nations in Europe. The overthrow of Granson, took place, March 3rd, 1476: that of Morat, June 22nd in the same year; and that of Nancy, January 5th, 1477. In this Charles (or, as he is called from the Latin, Charalois) Duke of Burgundy fell."
How would Mr. Gifford have handled Coxeter or Mason, if they had written, The battle of Agincourt, gained by Henry (or as he was called from the Greek [Greek characters], Wales) king of England? Charolois, however, which Mr. Gifford confounds with the Latin Carolus, was a county subject to the Duke of Burgundy, and the title of Comte de Charolois was borne by Charles till the death of his father in 1467, when he succeeded to the dukedom. The historical statement is not less inaccurate. Mr. Gifford had a general impression that the Swiss were vigorous rustics, and had struggled boldly for their liberty; and, without referring to the particulars of their contest with the Duke of Burgundy, he has passed this unmerited eulogy on their victories. In this instance, they cannot properly be said to have contended for liberty, excepting inasmuch as the liberty of any belligerent would be endangered by failure, as they were the first aggressors; and Charles gained no important advantages over them, if we except the capture of Granson, which was quickly wrested from him.
"Vouloit ledit Due laisser reposer son armee, qui estoit fort defaite, tant a cause de Nuz, que par ce peu de guerre de Lorraine, et Ie demeurant vouloit il envoyer en garnison, en aucunes places du Comte de Romont comme aupres des villes de Berne et Fribourg ansquelles il vouloit faire la guerre, tant pour ce qu'ils la lui avoient faite, estant devant, Nuz, qu'aussi pour avoir aide lui oster la Comte de Ferrete, et parce qu'ils avoient oste au dit Comte de Romont partie de sa terre." Phil de Comines, liv. 5. c. 1.
Secondly, the statement of the relative forces, is directly contrary to the account given by the same very credible writer, who says that he had the circumstances from those who were present. At the battle of Granson, the Swiss army was inferior in numbers, but strongly posted. The Duke ill-advisedly advanced to dislodge them. The van, being unexpectedly attacked by the Swiss, was ordered to fall back; and the body of the army, mistaking their retreat for flight, was thrown into confusion, and fled without having been engaged. The Duke lost only 700 men; but his reputation suffered greatly. His own allies fell from him; and the forces of the old league and the new confederacy of Basle, Strasbourg, &c. were joined by those of the Duke of Lorraine, and the imperial towns of Francfort, Nuremberg, &c. At the battle of Morat, the confederates were superior in number, well equipped, and stronger in cavalry. We quote again the same author.
"Les dits alliez, comme il fut dit par ceux, qui y estoient, pouvoient bien estre 31,000 hommes de pied, bien choises et bien armez, (c'est it scavoir 11,000 piques, 10,000 hallebardes, 10,000 couleurines) et 400 hommes de cheval." — "Le duc de Lorraine arriva vers les dites alliances peu d'heures avant la bataille et avec peu de gens."
He afterwards states, on the authority of the Prince de Tarente, who saw the Duke of Burgundy's army counted while it was passing a bridge, that it was well equipped; but it consisted of only 23,000 regulars, besides artillery, and those who attended the baggage.
"Qu'il avoit compte et fait compter l'armee en passant sur un pont, et y avoit bien trouve 23,000 hommes de soulde, sans le reste qui suivoit l'armee et qui estoit pour le fait de l'artillerie."
The Duke lost in that action 8000 of the regular troops. We now come to the battle of Nancy. The allies were in force, and the Duke's army, discouraged by defeat, and reduced to less than 4000 men, of which not above twelve hundred were effective. He gave battle in a fit of desperation, and was slain.
"J'ay entendu par ceux qui le pensoient scavoir, qu'ils n'avoient point en l'ost quatre mille hommes; dont il n'y avoit que douze cens en estat pour combattre." — "Le duc choisit le pire, non obstant toutes les remonstrances qu'on lui avoit faites du grand nombre des Alemans, qui estoit avec ledit Duc de Lorraine, et aussi de l'armee du Roi, logee pres de lui; et conclud la bataille, avec ce petit nombre de gens epouventez qu'il avoit."
We have dwelt upon this note, because we are always anxious to maintain historical truth; and because we cannot better exemplify the haste and inaccuracy with which Mr. Gifford sometimes appears to write. It seems, from a note in vol. 4. p. 167, that he must have printed the first volumes, before he had even read through the author he was editing.
"This expression reconciles me to a passage in the Parliament of Love, vol. 2. p. 291, of which, though copied with my best care, I was extremely doubtful. It now appears, that Massinger uses candour, in both places, as synonymous with honour."
We are far from wishing to reproach Mr. Gifford with mistakes, to which men of genius, who write from recollection, are frequently liable; but it is our duty to repeat, and to urge strongly for his consideration in future, that those who can trespass on the public with such inaccuracies, should be very careful not to attack those who have preceded them with bitterness of language and harsh reprehension. Indeed in some passages, Mr. Gifford appears to have been irritated by so strong a spirit of impatience and anger against Coxeter and Mason, that we are inclined to think, if either of those unfortunate editors had been within his reach, he might have closed his arguments like George a Green, in an anonymous old play,
And for greater proof
Give my wan leave to fetch for me my staff;
I'll prove it good upon your carcases.
From almost every page in Mr. Gifford's edition, it appears, that his constant aim has not been simply to rectify what was inaccurate, to cast aside what was superfluous, and to add what might be necessary or useful for the information of the reader, but to build his own reputation on the ruin of that of his predecessors. This object is pursued with such assiduity, that he frequently falls into the very error which he would reprobate in them. For instance, in the Duke of Milan, we find this note.
"Scarabs, means beetles. M. Mason. Very true; and beetles means scarabs." Vol. I. p. 279.
Some unlearned readers might perhaps be thankful for Mr. Mason's explanation; but, if it was superfluous, how much less edifying must it be with such an additional comment! Again, under the line "Enjoying one that but to me's a Dian," we find,
"Dian, a contraction for Diana. M. Mason. And so it is!" Vol. I. p. 315.
We may adduce another instance from the Virgin Martyr.
"As angels were no part of the Pagan theology, this should certainly be augel; from the Italian augello, which means a bird. M. Mason. It were to be wished that critics would sometimes apply to themselves the advice which Gonneril gives to poor old Lear; 'I pray you, father, being weak, seem so; we should not then find so many certainties.' — 'In Mandeville, the barbarous Herodotus of a barbarous age, there is an account of a people (probably the remains of the old Guebres) who exposed the dead bodies of their parents to the fowls of the air. They reserved however their sculls, of which he says the son 'letethe make a cuppe; and thereof drynkethe he with gret devocioun, in remembrance of the holy man that the aungeles of God have eaten.' By this expression (says Mr. Hole), Mandeville possibly meant to insinuate that they were considered as sacred messengers. No, surely; aungeles of God was synonymous in Mandeville's vocabulary to fowls of the air." Vol. 1. p. 36.
We believe that many of our readers will disagree with that assertion, and think the harsh assurance of one editor nearly as objectionable as the quiet certainty of the other. Instances are however adduced, which prove Mr. Mason's correction to have been unnecessary and improper: and, indeed, throughout the whole work, Mr. Gifford deserves great commendation for restoring the text which had been injudiciously altered. Sometimes, however, his animosity against Mr. Mason has induced him to reject scornfully his suggestions, though not devoid of ingenuity. For example, in the Duke of Milan.
To see those chufffs, that every day may spend
A soldier's entertainment for a year,
Yet make a third meal of a bunch of raisins.
"So all the old copies, and so indeed Coxeter's; but Mr. Mason, whose sagacity nothing escapes, detected the poet's blunder, and for "third" suggested, nay, actually printed "thin" — "This passage (quoth he) appears to be erroneous: the making a third meal of raisins, if they had made two good meals before, would be no proof of penuriousness." — Seriously, was ever alteration so capricious? Was ever reasoning so absurd? Where is it said that these chuffs had made two good meals before? Is not the whole tendency of the speech to show that they starved themselves in the midst of abundance?" I. p. 279.
It is so undoubtedly; and, on that very account, did Mr. Mason object to "third"; because, though perhaps not two "good meals," it did imply that they had made two before, and that would not be much like starvation. The alteration is ingenious, and makes the sentence clearer. If "third" is the genuine reading, it may perhaps mean "principal," considering the third meal as the most important.
With respect to the word "chuff," Mr. Gifford says, "it is always used in a bad sense, and means a coarse unmannerly clown, at once sordid and wealthy." That is a mistaken interpretation; the word, if ever, has not always that signification. In Decker's Hon. Wh. Fustigo says, "Troth, sister, I heard you were married to a very rich chuff. Viola. I am married to a man that has wealth enough, and wit enough. Fustigo. A linen-draper, I was told, sister. Viola. Very true, a grave citizen. I want nothing that a wife can wish from a husband." — Afterwards, speaking of him, Pioratte says, "He, according to the mildness of his breast, entertained the lords, and with courtly discourse beguiled the time as much as a citizen might do." We believe that the word has much more affinity to "citizen" than to "clown."
In the Bondman (Scene I.), we find a proper interpretation of Mason's rejected with scorn as unintelligible.
He's a man of strange and reserved parts.
"Strange here signifies distant. M. Mason. I do not pretend to know the meaning of distant parts. Massinger, however, is clear enough. Strange and reserved in his language, is strangely (i.e. singularly) reserved." II. p. 8.
If Mr. Gifford had found leisure even to open Johnson's Dictionary, (though a phrase so common ought perhaps to have been familiar to him), he would have seen under the word strangeness, that explanation which he could not pretend to furnish; (viz. "uncommunicativeness, distance of behaviour; remoteness from common manners or notions, uncouthness.") And he might have read sundry quotations from Shakspeare, which we think it unnecessary to cite, for the purpose of showing that Mason's interpretation, though perhaps superfluous, was perfectly accurate.
Mr. Gifford's irritation against the former editors, displays itself curiously in his note to a line in the Renegado; where, by an improper alteration of "caroch" into coach, the metre had been disturbed.
"If the reader would have a specimen of what can be done by a nice ear in editing an ancient poet, let him cast an eye on this line, as it stands in Coxeter and Mason. 'Her footmen, her coach, her ushers, her pages. 'Tumtiti, Tumtiti,'" &c. II. p. 133.
As Ennius has used "taratantara" for the sound of a trumpet, Mr. Gifford may perhaps be justified for expressing by "tumtiti," his sense of the error committed by the editors of Massinger. But looking upon this as a natural and involuntary exclamation, which had been forced from him by the exquisite sensibility of his ear, we were surprised at discovering that the gentlemen, who have been thus rebuked, might in other passages retort the "tumtiti" upon Mr. Gifford with equal propriety. We will cite an instance from the City Madam, in Mr. Gifford's edition.
Hoyst. I now repent I ever
Intended to be honest.
(Enter Luke) Serj. Here he comes
You had best tell so.
For. Worshipful Sir,
You come in time to free us from these bandogs.
To which we find the following note—
"Mr. Mason reads, 'Here he comes; You had best him tell so.' His false pointing made his barbarous interpolation necessary. The old copy is evidently right." IV. p. 85.
Mr. Mason made the interpolation solely for the purpose of supporting the metre which was defective; and Mr. Gifford's metrical sensibility must have quite deserted him, when he asserted that a dramatic verse hobbling with only nine syllables, was evidently right. There is undoubtedly an error in the passage, for Massinger is never deficient in his metre, which was very artificial, and, in his comedies, is particularly superabundant in unaccented syllables; but Mr. Mason's interpolation is by no means satisfactory. The inversion is harsh, and does not accord with the author's style; and the words "Here he comes," cannot stand well without a reference. Perhaps Massinger had written, "Here he comes That you had best tell so." In the very next scene, we find "Here he comes that can best resolve you."
We will produce from the same play a passage in which Mr. Gifford has been guilty of an interpolation not less objectionable and more injurious to the sense; imagining that a foot was wanting to make the metre perfect, which does not appear to be the case.
Secret. Dead doings, daughter.
Shav. Doings! sufferings, mother:
[For poor] men have forgot what doing is,
And such as have to pay for what they do,
Are impotent as eunuchs.
"A foot is lost in the original. I have substituted the words between brackets, in the hope of restoring the sense of the passage." IV. 49.
The sense, which was by no means dubious, is rather injured by the interpolation; and the construction is not improved by connecting the sentence with the foregoing exclamation. A simple attention to the division of the lines would have rectified the metre.
Dead doings, daughter. — Doings? Sufferings!
Mother, men have forgot what doing is.
Mr. Gifford has rectified many passages, in which the metre was absolutely destroyed by an improper division of the lines in Mason's edition; but, notwithstanding the indignation he displays upon such occasions, he has left many portentous lines, which might have been easily reduced, by the same process, within proper dimensions. For instance, in the Bashful Lover—
I would we were so rid of them.
Goth. I fear one hath
The art of memory and will remember.
"One hath" should be the commencement of the second, which will bear the addition. In the City Madam we encountered the following formidable verse.
I once held you an upright honest man. I am honester now.
"I once held you" ought to have been printed as the conclusion of the foregoing line. Though burthened by the addition, it will come within the rules of Massinger's comic metre, which (as we before said) is purposely superabundant in unaccented syllables; a liberty which he adopted in imitation of the comic iambics, that admit anapaests, and dactyles. The lines will stand thus,
You are ve | ry peremp | tory, pray | you stay; | I once held | you
An upright honest man. | I am honester now.
We could adduce many instances to show that the first verse, as we propose to read it, is conformable to Massinger's rules of comic versification. One line of similar structure will be sufficient.
And punishment o | vertake him | when he least | expects it.
We have said that this structure of verse is artificial, and not arising from negligence, because he affects that extraordinary abundance of unaccented syllables in the comic parts, as diligently, as he avoids it in the tragedies and more dignified parts of his comedies. Few writers appear to have attended more to their versification than Massinger; and however inharmonious such lines may be esteemed, their metre has been perhaps as studiously arranged as the most melodious lines of his finer passages.
These observations upon Massinger's usual manner of accenting his verse, lead us to propose the alteration of a single word in a corrupt passage in the Unnatural Combat, where Mr. Gifford is desirous of interpolating a whole line.
But if we find, as most believe, he hath held
Intelligence with his accursed son,
Fallen off from all allegiance, and turn'd
(But for what cause we know not) the most bloody
And fatal enemy this country ever
Repented to have brought forth; all compassion
Of what he was, or may be, if now pardon'd,
We sit engaged to censure him with all
Extremity and rigour. I. p. 137.
For "all," Mr. Mason reads "no," which is scarcely an English construction — certainly not such English as Massinger would have written. Mr. Gifford proposes to retain "all compassion," and to insert "Of his years pass'd over, all consideration." This, however, is too great an addition to be made without authority; and we think unnecessary. As far as we have observed, when forth is added to a verb, it throws the accent on forth; as in Massinger, "Thus hollowly break forth" — "Put forth an inch of taper," &c.; and, imagining that all was a mistake of the printer's, whose eye might have been fixed on the words "with all" in the verse below, we propose to read without compassion; which will restore the sense and the metre, according to the author's manner.
The strange inaccuracies of Mason, and his capricious deviations from the original text, might have furnished sufficient grounds of animadversion to satisfy an editor of moderate gall; but Mr. Gifford could not make himself comfortable, without travelling out of the record to censure sundry other worthies, for the sake of a little variety. When the text does not furnish him with facilities for such pleasing excursions, a quotation from any other author, though perhaps not very apt, is sufficient to smooth the way for a little extraneous censure. In the notes to a Very Woman, a quotation is introduced from Ben Jonson.
Rut is young physician to the family,
That, letting God alone, &c.
After which, we read the following observations written undoubtedly, as the editor has justly observed, without any disposition to personal satire, and with a due sense of the impropriety of converting an antient writer into a libellist of modern characters.
"I have no propensity to personal satire, nor do I think it just to convert an antient author into a libellist, by an appropriation of his descriptions to modern characters; yet I must, for once, be indulged in saying, that almost every word here delivered applies so forcibly to a late physician, that it requires some evidence to believe that the lines were written nearly two centuries ago. To lessen the wonder, however, it may be observed, that, from the days of Dr. Rutt to those of Dr. D—n, that description of men, who, letting God alone, ascribe to nature more than her share, have been commonly licentious, petulant, and obscene buffoons." IV. p. 62.
In the passage just quoted, Mr. Gifford has made it so evident to the public that he writes with every disposition to courtesy and gentleness, and that whatever may appear bitter in his observations is attributable to that irresistible impulse by which the effect must follow the cause, that we shall dismiss altogether this part of our subject; and proceed to the more pleasing task of commendation, where we think it may be fairly bestowed.
We have already said that Mr. Gifford deserves high praise for the diligence with which he had restored the text to its original purity, by discarding the alterations and interpolations of the former editors. In whatever emendations he has proposed, the strictest attention has been paid to the style of the author; whereas Mason's alterations perpetually sin against it. His explanations of antiquated words are for the most part accurate and useful; and, in some instances, he has determined the meaning of expressions, which had not been heretofore properly understood. We shall quote two notes by Mr. Gifford, which we think will give satisfaction to our readers.
"In 'way of youth' did I enjoy one friend.
"There is no passage in Shakespeare on which more has been written than the following one in Macbeth.
I have lived long enough; my 'way of life'
Is fallen into the sere and yellow leaf.
"For way of life, Johnson would read 'May of life'; in which he is followed by Colman, Langton, Steevens, and others; and Mr. Henley a very confident gentleman, declares, that he 'has now no doubt that Shakspeare wrote May of life,' which is also the 'settled opinion' of Mr. Davis! At a subsequent period, Steevens appears to have changed his opinion, and acquiesced in the old reading, way of life, which he interprets, with Mr. Mason, 'course or progress,' precisely as Warburton, whom every mousing owl hawks at, had done long before. Mr. Malone follows in the same track; and if the words had signified what he supposes them to do, nothing more would be necessary on the subject. The fact however is, that these ingenious writers have mistaken the phrase, which is neither more nor less than a simple periphrasis for life; as way of youth in the text is for youth. A few examples will make this clear.
If that when I was mistress of myself,
And in my 'way of youth,' pure and untainted,
The Emperor had vouchsafed, &c. Roman Actor.
i.e. in my youth.
So much nobler
Shall be your 'way of justice.' Thierry and Theodoret,
i.e. your justice.
Thus ready for the 'way of death or life,'
I wait the sharpest blow. Pericles.
i.e. for death or life.
If all the art I have, or power can do it,
He shall be found, and such a 'way of justice'
Indicted on him. Queen of Corinth.
i.e. such justice. 'Probably,' say the editors, 'we should read weight of justice; way is very flat!
If we can wipe out
The 'way of your offences,' we are yours, Sir. Valentinian.
i.e. your offences. 'To wipe out the way,' the same editors again remark, 'seems a strange phrase; stain, we apprehend, will be allowed a better word: yet we should not have substituted it,' (they actually foist it into the text), 'had we not been persuaded that the old reading was corrupt!' And thus our best poets are edited!" &c. Vol. 4. p. 304.
We can only quote the latter part of an excellent note, explanatory of the expressions 'cry aim' and 'give aim,' which appear to have been greatly misunderstood. Coxeter had proposed to read, 'cry, Ay me!' in the following passage.
While you cry aim,
Like idle lookers on. Bondman, p. 27.
Mr. Gifford explains, that to cry aim was to encourage, to give aim to direct.
"Those who cried 'aim!' stood by the archers; he who gave it was stationed near the butts, and pointed out, after the discharge, how wide or how short the arrow fell of the mark. An example or two will make all this clear.
It ill becomes this presence to 'cry aim!'
To these ill-tuned repetitions. King John.
i.e. to encourage.
Before his face plotting his own abuse,
To which himself 'gives aim.'
While the broad arrow with forked head
Misses his brows but narrowly. A Mad World my Masters.
Now to be patient, were to play the pander
To the viceroy's base embraces, and 'cry aim!'
While he by force, &c. Renegado.
This way I toil in vain, and give but 'aim'
To infamy and ruin; he will fall;
My blessing cannot stay him. The Roaring Girl.
i.e. direct them.
'Standyng rather in his window to crye aime! than helpying any wave to part the fraye.' Fenton's Tragical Discourses. i.e. to encourage.
'I myself gave aim thus, &c.' Middleton's Spanish Gypsie. i.e. directed." II. p. 27.
We regret that Mr. Gifford has not offered to the public his own particular observations on the several plays of Massinger, which (although, like most editors, he is too partial to his author) we should have deemed highly interesting; for we have much respect for Mr. Gifford's talents and discernments. Instead of meeting with such gratification, we are annoyed, at the end of every drama, by certain dull and pious dissertations, which, if the name of Dr. Ireland had not been subjoined to them, we should have been inclikned to attribute to some itinerant preacher. It will not appear wonderful that we should have nearly fallen into that misconception, since the Doctor, apologizing for the task he had undertaken in criticizing Massinger, assures his readers, that "no calling has been left for it." IV. p. 583. We quote a specimen of Dr. Ireland's observations on the Fatal Dowry, the joint production of Field and Massinger, from which the Fair Penitent of Rowe was stolen without any acknowledgment. After stating, that it is doubted which passages should be attributed to Field, and which to Massinger, he adds,
"I pass with pleasure from this uninteresting inquiry to a great moral, which, after all the discussion bestowed upon this play, is as yet fresh and untouched. Charalois slew an offending wife, and the partner of her crime, with his own hand, and was himself slain. Vengeance belongs to Heaven; and, by the Divine will, the administration of it, for mortal purposes, is vested in the laws. To revenge our own cause, is to despise the seat of justice, and the order of Providence; and to involve ourselves in guilt, and the punishment of it. Virtue must employ only virtuous means in the coercion of vice itself. Her injuries will therefore wait upon the laws; for in the very forms of justice there is virtue." III. p. 475.
On the Virgin Martyr he observes—
"Certainly there is too much horror in this tragedy. The daughters of Theophilus are killed on the stage. Theophilus himself is racked; and Dorothea is dragged by her hair, kicked, tortured, and beheaded. Its popularity must therefore, in a considerable degree, be attributed to the interest occasioned by the contrary agencies of the two spirits; to the glorious vision of the beatified Dorothea, at the conclusion of the piece, and the reappearance of Angelo in his proper character, with the sacred fruits and flowers from the heavenly garden, and the crown of immortality for Theophilus." I. p. 124.
We are surprised that Mr. Gifford should have condescended to print this passage; which would undoubtedly have excited his spleen, if it had fallen from Coxeter or Mason. We shall only observe, in the words of Mr. Gifford, that the glorious vision of the beatified Dorothea, "with the poor helps of which the stage was then possessed, must have been somewhat worse than ridiculous.' — 'Such was the poverty of the stage" (we again quote Mr. Gifford), "that it admitted of little variety. A plain curtain hung up in a corner, separated distant regions; and if a board were advanced with Milan or Florence written upon it, the delusion was complete, A table with pen and ink thrust in, signified that the stage was a counting-house; if these were withdrawn, and two stools put in their places, it was then a tavern. Instance of this may be found in the margin of all our old plays, which seem to be copied from the prompter's books." Introd. p. 76. We imagine, for our part, that the Virgin Martyr was probably indebted for much of its popularity to the very absurdities and ribaldry from which a modern audience would have most revolted; and in some degree, to the fine passages which are intermixed with such horrors and obscenity, and must have had a powerful effect on the hearers.
It is not our intention to enter minutely into the merits of Massinger's writings: they are valuable enough to have deserved an accurate edition, but we have neither leisure nor inclination to discuss them in detail. Mr. Gifford will perhaps be offended at the little ceremony with which we treat his favourite dramatist. It is natural for men to imbibe a strong partiality for whatever has particularly occupied their attention. In painting, in music, in almost every artificial amusement, a certain degree of habit and skill is necessary for the discernment of real beauties; and it cannot be surprising, that the constant exercise of that factitious skill, applied to an individual object, should lead to a false perception of imaginary beauties. Hence it perpetually happens, that, after the assiduous contemplation of any object, the mind attaches itself to what it has minutely investigated, and gradually leans to sympathize with that from which it would have at first revolted. Had we, instead of reviewing Mr. Gifford's production, toiled, like him, through a laborious collation of the text of the several editions, we should doubtless be more tender of Massinger's dramatical reputation. But although we are inclined, from these considerations to attribute the excessive praise which Mr. Gifford has lavished on Massinger, not so much to a faulty taste, as to an overweening fondness for the companion of his studious hours, we cannot but express our astonishment at some instances in his work of what we deem most unmerited approbation. In a note on the Renegado, Mr. Gifford says, "There is a passage in Tomkis's Albamazar, which would be admired even in the noblest scenes of Shakespeare,
How slow the day slides on! when we desire
Time's haste, he seems to lose a match with lobsters;
And when we wish him stay, be imps his wings
With feathers plumed with thought." II. p. 227.
We are not less at a loss to discover that pre-eminent beauty in the following passage, which should have called for such unqualified commendation as Mr. Gifford bestows upon it.
But wherefore came you in divided troops,
As if the mistresses would not accept
Their servants' guardship, or the servants slighted
Refuse to offer it? You all wear sad looks
On Perigot appears not that blunt mirth
Which his face used to promise; on Montrose
There hangs a heavy dullness; Cleremond
Droops e'en to death, and Clarindore hath lost
Much of his sharpness; nay, these ladies too,
Whose sparkling eyes did use to fire the court
With various inventions of delight,
Part with their splendour. What's the cause? from whence
Proceeds this alteration?
"Let me call the reader's attention to the exquisite melody of this speech nothing is forced, nothing is inverted. Plainness and simplicity are all the aids of which the poet has availed himself; yet a more perfect specimen of flowing, elegant, and rhythmical modulation is not to be found in the English language." II. p. 244.
Massinger, in our unprejudiced (though perhaps mistaken) opinion, is an eloquent writer; but an indifferent dramatist. His comedies have no wit; his tragedies no propriety. In his Bondman (one of the best) Pisander the Theban disguises himself as a slave, and contrives to be sold to the father of Cleora of Syracuse, whom he loves in secret. When Timoleon has drawn forth all the force of Syracuse against an invading enemy, Pisander, for the sake of shewing his own continence to his beloved Cleora, excites the slaves who remained in Syracuse to revolt, and in pure good humour to dishonour all the wives and daughters, and scourge all the fops, who were left behind in the city. At the end of the play, when Timoleon returns with the army, Pisander, who is known to have been the mover of the rebellion, having discovered his name and quality, receives Cleora for his bride with the good-will of all the Syracusans; and the facetious outrages committed by his followers are passed over lightly, as having been a wholesome lesson to the proud dames of Sicily.
There is not, according to the best of our recollection, a single pathetic scene in all the writings of Massinger; there is not a passage, amidst all the butchery which he displays, that can draw a tear of sympathy from the audience; and he appears to have been conscious of his inability to represent a tender emotion, which he has scarcely ever attempted. In the Unnatural Combat, a tragedy in which every horror that the mind can imagine has been accumulated, and which is by no means destitute of terrific beauties, two opportunities offered themselves for the representation of the deepest emotion and distress, and both are completely neglected. The one where Theocrine hears that her father has killed her brother in single combat: the other, where Belgarde finds his beloved Theocrine (who had been dishonoured by a ruffian, and turned out half naked in a tempestuous night) lying dead beside her father. A more dreadful scene cannot be conceived; but the only observations of Belgarde on the occasion are as follows:
All that have eyes to weep
Spare one tear with me. Theocrine's dead.
Here's one retains
Her native innocence, that never yet
Call'd down Heaven's vengeance.
With those few words from Belgarde, and a dry moral from his father, the play concludes. An author, who could dismiss such circumstances of distress, without aiming at a single expression of emotion, must have felt himself incompetent "to ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears," and have shrunk from the attempt. "The gates of horror" he has set wide open.
Massinger's talents appear to have been better fitted by nature for heroic than dramatic writing: he excels in dignified scenes; he describes both character and passion with skill; but is unable to give them appropriate language and expression: he is eloquent, indeed, in every species of description; but his flowing, stately periods, are perhaps too lofty for the stage, and contribute to render his plays heavy and wearisome to the reader; while those of Beaumont and Fletcher, with equal faults, are far more diverting. We shall quote a few passages as specimens of Massinger's eloquent language.
They have drawn together
Two royal armies, full of fiery youth;
Of equal spirit to dare, and power to do
So near entrench'd, that 'tis beyond all hope
Of human counsel they can e'er be sever'd,
Until it be determined by the sword
Which bath the better cause: for the success
Concludes the victor innocent, and the vanquish'd
Most miserably guilty. How uncertain
The fortune of the war is, children know;
And, it being in suspense, on whose fair tent
Wing'd Victory will make her glorious stand,
You cannot blame the Duke, though he appear
Perplex'd and troubled.
I. p. 240. Duke of Milan.
This beauty, in the blossom of my youth,
When my first fire knew no adulterate incense,
Nor I no way to flatter but my fondness;
In all the bravery my friends could show me,
In all the faith my innocence could give me,
In the best language my true tongue could tell me,
And all the broken sighs my sick heart lent me,
I sued and served: long did I love this lady,
Long was my travail, long my trade to win her:
With all the duty of lay soul I served her.
IV. p. 315. A Very Woman.
The Virgin Martyr, which was the joint production of Decker and Massinger, and contains more horrors, more absurdities and obscenity, than most of these dramas, affords perhaps as many fine passages as any other; and the difference between the style of Decker and Massinger, is in many parts very distinguishable. Decker is less fluent and stately, has more of conceit, and admits occasional rhymes. The following scene, between Dorothea and the attendant angel, is evidently from the pen of Decker, and written in his best manner.
Dor. My book and taper.
Angelo. Here, most holy mistress.
Dor. Thy voice sends forth such music, that I never
Was ravish'd with a more celestial sound.
Were every servant in the world like thee
So full of goodness, angels would come down
To dwell with us: thy name is Angelo,
And like that name thou art: get thee to rest,
Thy youth with too much watching is opprest.
Ang. No, my good lady, I could weary stars,
And force the watchful moon to lose her eyes
By my late watching, but to wait on you.
When at your prayers you kneel before the altar,
Methinks I'm singing with some quire in heaven,
So blest I hold me in your company.
Therefore, my most loved mistress, do not bid
Your boy, so serviceable, to get hence,
For then you break his heart.
Dor. Be nigh me still, then
In golden letters down I'll set that day,
Which gave thee to me. Little did I hope
To meet such worlds of comfort in thyself,
This little pretty body, when I, coming
Forth of the temple, heard my beggar boy,
My sweet-faced godly beggar boy, crave an alms,
Which with glad hand I gave, with lucky hand!
And when I took thee home, my most chaste bosom
Methought was fill'd with no hot wanton fire,
But with a holy flame, mounting since higher
On wings of cberubims, than it did before.
Ang. Proud am I, that my lady's modest eye
So likes so poor a servant.
Dor. I have offer'd
Handfuls of gold but to behold thy father;
I would leave kingdoms, were I Queen of some,
To dwell with thy good father; for, the son
Bewitching me so deeply with his presence,
He that begot him must do't ten times more.
I pray thee, my sweet boy, show me thy parents;
Be not ashamed.
Ang. I am not; I did never
Know who my mother was; but by yon palace,
Fill'd with bright heavenly courtiers, I dare assure you,
And pawn these eyes upon it, and this hand,
My father is in heaven. &c. I. p. 32.
After the death of Dorothea, who is tortured and beheaded on the stage, Theophilus, the brutal instrument of Dioclesian's persecutions, is converted to Christianity by the sound of celestial music, and the reappearance of the attendant angel. The words of Angelo to Theophilus are very impressive.
Angelo. Fix thy foot there,
Nor be thou shaken with a Caesar's voice,
Though thousand deaths were in it.
The scene that follows between Dioclesian and Theophilus, is undoubtedly Massinger's; and we cannot quote a better specimen of his eloquence.
Diocl. Why, they (i.e. the Roman Dames) did die,
Theophilus, and boldly;
This did no more (i.e. Dorothea,)
Theoph. They out of desperation,
Or for vain-glory of an after-name,
Parted with life: this had not mutinous sons,
As the rash Gracchi were; nor was this saint
A doating mother, as Cornelia was:
This lost no husband, in whose overthrow
Her wealth and honour sunk; no fear of want
Did make her being tedious; but aiming
At an immortal crown, and in His cause
Who only can bestow it, who sent down
Legions of ministering angels to bear up
Her spotless soul to heaven; who entertain'd it
With choice celestial music, equal to
The motion of the spheres; she, uncompell'd,
Changed this life for abetter. My lord Sapritius,
You were present at her death; did you e'er hear
Such ravishing sounds
Sopr. Yet you said then 'twas witchcraft
And devilish illusions.
Theoph. I then heard it
With sinful ears, and belch'd out blasphemous words
Against his Deity, which then I knew not,
Nor did I believe in him.
Diocl. Why, dost thou now!
Or darest thou, in our hearing—
Theoph. Were my voice
As loud as is his thunder, to be heard
Through all the world, all potentates on earth
Ready to burst with rage, should they but hear it;
Though hell, to aid their malice, lent her furies;
Yet I would speak, and speak again, and boldly,
I am a Christian, and the powers you worship
But dreams of fools and madmen.
Max. Lay hands on him.
Diocl. Thou twice a child for dealing age so makes thee.
Thou couldst not else, thy pilgrimage of life
Being almost past through, in this last moment
Destroy whate'er thou hast done good or great.
Thy youth did promise much; and, grown a man
Thou madest it good, and with increase of years
Thy actions still better'd; as the sun
Thou didst rise gloriously, kept'st a constant course
In all thy journey; and now, in the evening,
When thou shouldst pass with honour to thy rest,
Wilt thou fall like a meteor? I. 113.
We shall now quote the description of the characters of the son and father in the Unnatural Combat.
I have sat with him in his cabin a day together,
Yet not a syllable exchanged between us.
Sigh he did often, as if inward grief
And melancholy at that instant would
Choke up his vital spirits; and now and then
A tear or two, as in derision of
The toughness of his rugged temper, would
Fall on his hollow cheeks, which, but once felt,
A sudden flash of fury did dry up;
And laying then his hand upon his sword,
He would murmur, but yet so as I oft heard him,
We shall meet, cruel father, yes we shall
When I'll exact, for every womanish drop
Of sorrow from these eyes, a strict account
Of much more from thine heart.—
—Yet what makes
The miracle greater, when from the maintop
A sail's descried, all thoughts that do concern
Himself laid by, no lion pinch'd with hunger
Rouses himself more fiercely from his den,
Than he comes on the deck and there how wisely
He gives directions, and how stout he is
In his executions, we to admiration
Have been eye-witnesses. Yet he never minds
The booty when 'tis made ours; but, as if
The danger in the purchase of the prey
Delighted him much more than the reward,
His will made known, he does retire himself
To his private contemplation; no joy
Express'd by him for victory. I. 146.
I have known him (i.e. the father)
From his first youth, but never yet observed,
In all the passages of his life and fortunes
Virtues so mix'd with vices; valiant the world speaks him,
But with that bloody; liberal in his gifts too,
But to maintain his prodigal expense,
A fierce extortioner; an impotent lover
Of women for a flash; but, his fires quench'd,
Hating as deadly. I. 272.
The following passage from the Old Law, which was the joint work of Massinger, Rowley, and Middleton, is eminently beautiful; though it may be questionable whether the lines should be attributed to Massinger — the fourth line especially.
Does the kind root bleed out its livelihood
In parent distribution to its branches,
Adorning them with all his glorious fruits,
Proud that his pride is seen while he's unseen;
And must not gratitude descend again
To comfort his old limbs in fruitless winter?
Improvident or at least partial nature
(Weak woman in this kind) who in thy last teeming
Forgettest still the former, ever making
The burthen of thy last throes the dearest darling
O yet in noble man, reform, reform it,
And make us better than those vegetives,
Whose souls die with them. Nature, as thou art old,
If love and justice be not dead in thee,
Make some the pattern of thy piety,
Lest all do turn unnaturally against thee,
And thou be blamed for our oblivious
And brutish reluctations! IV. 472.
A play, entitled the Parliament of Love, (which is not to be found in the former editions of Massinger) has been printed from an old MS. by Mr. Gifford, and is in parts imperfect; the editor informs us that "it is beyond all possibility of doubt the genuine work of Massinger." It is entered in the Master of the Revels' book with Massinger's name, but in the Stationers' book with Rowley's: and a play of the same name by W. Rowley was in the number of those destroyed by Mr. Warburton's servant. The editor is very sparing of the grounds of his decided opinion; but the internal evidence is to us satisfactory; and, after perusing the we had not the least hesitation in assenting to the assertion, that it is undoubtedly the work of Massinger. His style is easily recognized throughout the whole. We cannot, however, equally assent to the praise which Mr. Gifford's partiality has lavished on it. The language is good, but the play has little other merit. We shall extract from it one passage which is a good specimen of Massinger's fluent and elegant versification.
If I bring with me
One thought, but of submission and sorrow,
Or nourish any hope, but that your goodness
May please to sign my pardon, may I perish
In your displeasure! which tome is more
Than fear of hell hereafter. I confess
The violence I offered to your sweetness
In my Presumption, with lips impure
To force a touch from yours, a greater crime,
Than if I should have mix'd lascivious flames
With those chaste fires that burn at Dian's altar.
That 'twas a plot of treason to your virtues
To think you could he tempted, or believe
You were not fashion'd in a purer mould,
And made of purer clay, than other women.
Since you are then the Phoenix of your time,
And e'en now, while you bless the earth, partake
Of their angelical essence, imitate
Heaven's aptness to forgive, when mercy's sued for,
And once more take me to your grace and favour. II. 278.
In p. 252, we observe an error of the MS. (or perhaps of the press) which has escaped Mr. Gifford's observation. "I'll not out for a second," should have been, "I'll out for a second," as appears clearly by reference to p. 168.
We have perhaps already transgressed the limits we had prescribed to ourselves in the discussion of the merits of Massinger's writings; and shall now dismiss this article, assuring Mr. Gifford, that we are thankful to him for his edition, which is an acquisition to the public: and though we have held it our duty to censure his asperity against those who are beneath him in literary attainments, we respect his talents, and admire his industry.
[1841. P.S. I much regretted that this article gave offence to Mr. Gifford, with whom I was then unacquainted; and I consequently desisted entirely from writing reviews, of which the tone at that period was certainly too polemic. I wish to express my high opinion of his talents, and some obligation to him for a few judicious criticisms on the MS. of Helga, which was shewn to him by Mr. Murray.]