1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nicholas Rowe

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 68-69.



From a Picture, by Kneller, in the Collection of the Earl of Harcourt.

We have a great objection to Mr. NICHOLAS ROWE. In the first place, he has had a far greater reputation than he deserved; and in the second place, and more particularly, he was clearly guilty of a most unparalleled piece of knavery, in stealing the whole plot and character of Massinger's play of "The Fatal Dowry." He trimmed it up, and clipped it in some respects, and hammered it out in others, and tamed down the poetry to monotonous prosaic verse; and, thus altered, he exhibited it to the world as his own, (without any acknowledgement, or reference to Massinger's name,) under the title of "The Fair Penitent." This appears to us to be little better than swindling; yet we are not aware that Rowe has met with much reprehension for doing this. In that age, indeed, Massinger was unknown, or nearly so; and latterly the sin has, we suppose, been considered of so old a date as to have passed beyond the "legitimate" period of censure. We do not otherwise understand how this culprit has escaped. He was a literary thief, and should be arraigned in the court of the Muses, and lashed by the most stinging laurel rods that ever shot up on the harshest parts of Parnassus. Mrs. Oldfield was accustomed to say, that "the best school she had ever known, was the hearing Rowe read her part in his tragedies." — We suspect, from this anecdote, that Mrs. Oldfield, were she alive, would not play the characters of Shakspeare to our satisfaction. Rowe's poetry was indifferent, and his tragedy bad. He is valued, at present, we believe, more as a translator than as an original writer.