1854 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Dekker

Mary Russell Mitford, in Introduction to Mitford, Dramatic Works (1854) 1:xiv-xv.



Charles Lamb has given specimens of the early English Dramatists, containing as fine poetry as our language can show out of Shakespeare; and he and Hazlitt have rendered noble justice to Webster, to Marlowe, to Dekker, to Ford, to all who were previously little known; whilst Massinger, so admirable for character and construction, and Beaumont and Fletcher, so affluent, so eloquent, so royally grand in certain scenes, so touchingly pathetic in others, have, as it seems to me, something less than their due measure of praise. "Every child loves the violet of his own finding best." It is true that these great poets had their full meed of applause whilst still alive to enjoy it, and that so late as Dryden's day he had said that the English language attained its perfection in their verse; but in my time they had gone completely out of fashion; and I think that I was unconsciously swayed by the axiom which I have quoted, and a little overrated the twin dramatists, because I fancied them under-rated by these eminent critics. It is certain that I, luxuriated in their abundance, their profusion, the quantity of story and of incident which sometimes overlays their plots, but always keeps alive curiosity and interest; above all, in those whole scenes, sometimes whole acts, never whole plays, which might almost pass for Shakespeare. Fletcher was my second favourite amongst the old dramatists; but in plays, as in actors, I was catholic, and had love for them all.