1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas May

Mary Russell Mitford, in "On the Comedies of Thomas May" New Monthly Magazine NS 2 (1821) 70.



The beauty of old dramatic poetry is now so deeply felt and so widely understood; so many great critics have illustrated and adorned the subject, that it is rare to find a fine play that has not been as finely praised. One writer, nearly the last, of the great dramatic age, has been singularly unfortunate — I allude to Thomas May, the author of two charming tender comedies, "The Heir," and "The Old Couple," whose name I do not remember to have seen mentioned in any notice of the early English drama. Perhaps the nature of his merit may account for this neglect. The remarkable equability of his style is, in this point of view, a real disadvantage. His plays are essentially unquotable; and in spite of the excellence of the plots, the felicity of the situations, the constant grace and harmony of the language, and a certain indescribable charm of tenderness and loving kindness, which breathes through the whole and penetrates like incense, it would be difficult to select any single scene that might seem to justify the impression produced by the entire work. There is high poetry, but it is the poetry of feeling rather than words; a deep humanity; a strong faith in virtue; an earnest repentance; a zealous atonement; every thing that is sweet, and genial, and soothing; nothing that is striking; little that is fanciful. Thomas May's writings resemble Mr. Macready's acting, rather than Mr. Kean's. No sudden bursts! no electrical shocks! all is graceful, flowing, and continuous. His softness is almost womanly: his female characters are as pure and delicate as the finest carving in ivory.