Page images



withering smile of the King of Terrors.
scattered passages on this subject.

The following are

"It is the same harmless thing that a poor shepherd suffered yesterday or a
maid-servant to-day; and at the same time in which you die, in that very night
a thousand creatures die with you, some wise men, and many
fools; and the
wisdom of the first will not quit him, and the folly of the latter does not make
him unable to die."

"I have read of a fair young German gentleman, who, while living, often
refused to be pictured, but put off the importunity of his friends' desire by giving
way that after a few days' burial, they might send a painter to his vault, and
if they saw cause for it, draw the image of his death unto the life. They did
so, and found his face half eaten, and his midriff and back-bone full of serpents;
and so he stands pictured among his armed ancestors.

[ocr errors]


"It is a mighty change that is made by the death of every person, and it is
visible to us, who are alive. Reckon but from the sprightfulness of youth and
the fair cheeks and full eyes of childhood, from the vigorousness and strong
flexure of the joints of five-and-twenty, to the hollowness and dead paleness, to
the loathsomeness and horror of a three days' burial, and we shall perceive the
distance to be very great and very strange, But so have I seen a rose newly
springing from the clefts of its hood, and at first it was fair as the morning, and
full with the dew of heaven, as the lamb's fleece; but when a ruder breath had
forced open its virgin modesty, and dismantled its too youthful and unripe re-
tirements, it began to put on darkness and to decline to softness and the symp-
toms of a sickly age, it bowed the head and broke its stalk, and at night, having
lost some of its leaves, and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and
out-worn faces. So does the fairest beauty change, and it will be as bad with
you and me; and then what servants shall we have to wait upon us in the
grave? What friends to visit us? What officious people to cleanse away the
moist and unwholesome cloud reflected upon our faces from the sides of the
weeping vaults, which are the longest weepers for our funerals ?"

"A man may read a sermon, the best and most passionate that ever man
preached, if he shall but enter into the sepulchres of kings. In the same Escu-
rial where the Spanish princes live in greatness and power, and decree war or
peace, they have wisely placed a cemetery where their ashes and their glory
shall sleep till time shall be no more: and where our kings have been crowned,
their ancestors lie interred, and they must walk over their grandsires head to take
his crown.
There is an acre sown with royal seed, the copy of the greatest
change from rich to naked, from ceiled roofs to arched coffins, from living like
gods to die like men. There is enough to cool the flames of lust, to abate
the heights of pride, to appease the itch of covetous desires, to sully and dash
out the dissembling colours of a lustful, artificial, and imaginary beauty. There
the warlike and the peaceful, the fortunate and the miserable, the beloved and
the despised princes mingle their dust, and pay down their symbol of mortality,
and tell all the world that when we die, our ashes shall be equal to kings, and

73 Paraphrase

[ocr errors][merged small]

our accounts easier, and our pains for our crimes shall be less.* To my apprehension, it is a sad record which is left by Athenæus concerning Ninus the great Assyrian monarch, whose life and death is summed up in these words: 'Ninus the Assyrian had an ocean of gold, and other riches more than the sand in the Caspian sea; he never saw the stars, and perhaps he never desired it; he never stirred up the holy fire among the Magi: nor touched his god with the sacred rod according to the laws: he never offered sacrifice, nor worshipped the deity, nor administered justice, nor spake to the people; nor numbered them: but he was most valiant to eat and drink, and having mingled his wines, he threw the rest upon the stones. This man is dead, behold his sepulchre, and now hear where Ninus is. Sometime I was Ninus, and drew the breath of a living man, but now am nothing but clay. I have nothing but what I did eat, and what I served to myself in lust is all my portion: the wealth with which I was blessed, my enemies meeting together shall carry away, as the mad Thyades carry a raw goat. I am gone to hell: and when I went thither, I neither carried gold, nor horse, nor silver chariot. I that wore a mitre, am now a little heap of dust.'

[ocr errors]

He who wrote in this manner also wore a mitre, and is now a heap of dust: but when the name of Jeremy Taylor is no longer remembered with reverence, genius will have become a mockery, and virtue an empty shade!

*The above passage is an inimitably fine paraphrase of some lines on thǝ tombs in Westminster Abbey by F. Beaumont. It shows how near Jeremy Taylor's style was to poetry, and how well it weaves in with it.


Mortality, behold, and fear,

What a charge of flesh is here!
Think how many royal bones

Sleep within this heap of stones:

Here they lie, had realms and lands,

Who now want strength to stir their hands.

Where from their pulpits, sealed in dust,

They preach 'In greatness is no trust.'

Here's an acre sown indeed

With the richest, royal'st seed

That the earth did e'er suck in,

Since the first man died for sin.

Here the bones of birth have cried,

Though gods they were, as men they died.

Here are sands, ignoble things,

Dropp'd from the ruin'd sides of kings.

Here's a world of pomp and state

Buried in dust, once dead by fate."


On the Spirit of Ancient and Modern Literature-On the German Drama, contrasted with that of the Age of Elizabeth.

BEFORE I proceed to the more immediate subject of the present Lecture, I wish to say a few words of one or two writers in our own time, who have imbibed the spirit and imitated the language of our elder dramatists. Among these I may reckon the ingenious author of 'The Apostate' and 'Evadne,' who, in the lastmentioned play, in particular, has availed himself with much judgment and spirit of the tragedy of The Traitor,' by old Shirley. It would be curious to hear the opinion of a professed admirer of the Ancients, and captious despiser of the Moderns, with respect to this production, before he knew it was a copy of an old play. Shirley himself lived in the time of Charles I. and died in the beginning of Charles II. ;* but he had formed his style on that of the preceding age, and had written the greatest number of his plays in conjunction with Jonson, Decker, and Massinger. He was "the last of those fair clouds that on the bosom of bright honour sailed in long procession, beautiful and calm." The name of Mr. Tobin is familiar to every lover of the drama. His Honey-Moon' is evidently founded on 'The Taming of a Shrew,' and Duke Aranza has been pronounced by a polite critic to be "an elegant Petruchio." The plot is taken from Shakspeare; but the language and sentiments, both of this play and of 'The Curfew,' bear a more direct resemblance to the flowery tenderness of Beaumont and Fletcher, who were, I believe, the favourite study of our author. Mr. Lamb's 'John Woodvil' may be considered as a dramatic fragment, intended for the closet rather than the stage. It would sound oddly in the lobbies of either theatre, amidst the noise and


* He and his wife both died from fright, occasioned by the great fire of London in 1665, and lie buried in St. Giles's churchyard.

glare and bustle of resort; but "there where we have treasured up our hearts," in silence and in solitude, it may claim and find a place for itself. It might be read with advantage in the still retreats of Sherwood Forest, where it would throw a new-born light on the green, sunny glades; the tenderest flower might seem to drink of the poet's spirit, and "the tall deer that paints a dancing shadow of his horns in the swift brook," might seem to do so in mockery of the poet's thought. Mr. Lamb, with a

modesty often attendant on fine feeling, has loitered too long in the humbler avenues leading to the temple of ancient genius, instead of marching boldly up to the sanctuary, as many with half his pretensions would have done: "but fools rush in, where angels fear to tread." The defective or objectionable parts of this production are imitations of the defects of the old writers: its beauties are his own, though in their manner. The touches of thought and passion are often as pure and delicate as they are profound; and the character of his heroine Margaret is perhaps the finest and most genuine female character out of Shakspeare. This tragedy was not critic-proof: it had its cracks and flaws and breaches, through which the enemy marched in triumphant. The station which he had chosen was not indeed a walled town, but a straggling village, which the experienced engineers proceeded to lay waste; and he is pinned down in more than one Review of the day, as an exemplary warning to indiscreet writers, who venture beyond the pale of periodical taste and conventional criticism. Mr. Lamb was thus hindered by the taste of the polite vulgar from writing as he wished; his own taste would not allow him to write like them: and he (perhaps wisely) turned critic and prose-writer in his own defence. To say that he has written better about Shakspeare, and about Hogarth, than anybody else, is saying little in his praise. A gentleman of the name of Cornwall, who has lately published a volume of Dramatic Scenes, has met with a very different reception, but I cannot say that he has deserved it. He has made no sacrifice at the shrine of fashionable affectation or false glitter. There is nothing common-place in his style to soothe the complacency of dulness, nothing extravagant to startle the grossness of ignorance. He writes with simplicity, delicacy, and fervour;

continues a scere from Shakspeare, or works out a hint from Boccacio, in the spirit of his originals, and though he bows with reverence at the altar of those great masters, he keeps an eye curiously intent on nature, and a mind awake to the admonitions of his own heart. As he has begun, so let him proceed. Any one who will turn to the glowing and richly-coloured conclusion of The Falcon,' will, I think, agree with me in this wish!

There are four sorts or schools of tragedy with which I am acquainted. The first is the antique or classical. This consisted, I apprehend, in the introduction of persons on the stage, speaking, feeling, and acting according to nature, that is, according to the impression of given circumstances on the passions and mind of man in those circumstances, but limited by the physical conditions of time and place, as to its external form, and to a certain dignity of attitude and expression, selection in the figures, and unity in their grouping, as in a statue or bas-relief. The second is the Gothic or romantic, or, as it might be called, the historical or poetical tragedy, and differs from the former, only in having a larger scope in the design and boldness in the execution; that is, it is the dramatic representation of nature and passion emancipated from the precise imitation of an actual event in place and time, from the same fastidiousness in the choice of the materials, and with the license of the epic and fanciful form added to it in the range of the subject and the decorations of language. This is particularly the style or school of Shakspeare and of the best writers of the age of Elizabeth, and the one immediately following. Of this class, or genus, the tragédie bourgeoise is a variety, and the antithesis of the classical form. The third sort is the French or common-place rhetorical style, which is founded on the antique as to its form and subject matter; but instead of individual nature, real passion, or imagination growing out of real passion and the circumstances of the speaker, it deals only in vague, imposing, and laboured declamations, or descriptions of nature, dissertations on the passions, and pompous flourishes which never entered any head but the author's, have no existence in nature which they pretend to identify, and are not dramatic at all, but purely didactic. The

« PreviousContinue »