Page images

recanted any of the opinions there stated: it is but short, and we shall best understand it by reading it.


"of William Prynne, Esquire, from some scandalous Papers and imputations newly printed and published to traduce and defame him in his reputation.

"Whereas a scandalous Paper have been newly printed and published in my name by some of the imprisoned Stage-Players, or agents of the army, intituled, Mr. William Prynne, his Defence of StagePlayes, or a retraction of a former booke of his, called His Tbiomastix, of purpose to traduce and defame me, I do hereby publicly declare to all the world the same to be a meere Forgery and imposture, and that my judgement and opinion concerning StagePlayes, and the Common Actors of them, and their intollerable mischeivousnesse in. every Christian State, is still the same as I have more amply manifested it to be in my Histriomastix," &c. &c.

, . William Prynne."

'* From the King's Head in the Strand, Jan. 10, 1648." . .

Morton. Have you ever seen that " mere forgery and imposture," Prynne's Defence of Stage-plays?

Bourne. Never: it would be well worth reading, as it would no doubt contain much entertaining matter. The important fact communicated in this publie notice has not, that I am aware of, been noticed by any of the biographers of Prynne. I have a right, therefore, to presume, that the document is a rarity of some curiosity.

Elliot. Certainly; but the series would be complete, if, by any accident, you could meet with a copy of this spurious Defence.

Bourne. It would; but I have met with a tract of no inconsiderable value on the question we are now examining, and which has never been in the hands of any of our theatrical historians.

Morton. They have been so numerous and so industrious a body, that one would think it difficult to glean after them with any success.

Bourne. We will not discuss their merits, as we have not much time to spare, and what I now present to you is longer than Ppynne's Proclamation. Its date ought to have entitled it to a place before what we last read, but it would have been inconvenient to have introduced it there: it was published "Januar. 24, 1643" very soon after all the theatres were closed by the influence of the puritans. The title is this—" The Actors Remonstrance, or Complaint for the silencing of their profession and banishment from their severall Play-houses. In which is fully set downe their grievances for the restraint: especially since Stage-Playes only, of all publicke recreations, are prohibited; the exercise at the Beares Colledge, and the motions of Puppets, being still in force and vigour. As it was presented in the named and behalfes of all our London Comedians to the great God Phoebus Apollo, and the nine Heliconian Sisters on the top of Parnassus, by one of the Masters of Requests to the Muses, for this present month. And published by their command in print by the Typograph Royall of the Castalian Province, 1643, London, printed for Edw. Nickson." ■ Morton. It seems a sort of serious joke—a good^ natured endeavour to overcome the animosity of the enemies of theatrical amusements.

Bourne. That is its character, though it complains of several grave evils and acute sufferings. The name of the author or authors is a matter out of the question. After setting forth various calamities, the petitioners thus address Apollo. "First, it is not unknowne to all the audience that have frequented the private houses of Black-Friers, the Cock Pit, and Salisbury-Court, without austerity, we have purged our stages from all obscene and scurrilous jests, such as might either be guilty of corrupting the manners, or defaming the persons of any men of note in the City or Kingdome; * * that wee have left off our own parts, and so have commanded our servants to forget that ancient custome, which formerly rendered men of our quality infamous, namely, the inveigling in young Gentlemen, Merchants, Factors, and Pren-, tizes, to spend their patrimonies and Masters estates upon us and our Harlots in Tavernes; we have oleane and quite given Over the borrowing money at first sight of punie gallants, or praysing their swords, belts, and beavers, so to invite them to bestow them upon us."

Elliot. It admits, in fact, some of the principal charges against those connected with theatrical performances.

Bourne. They were not to be denied. It afterwards complains of the "perpetuall, at least very long temporary silence" imposed upon Actors "to the impoverishment and utter undoing of themselves, wives, children, and dependants," while the " beastlinesse of the Beare-Garden," and senseless puppetplays were continued, instancing a most attractive one of Bell and the Dragon, exhibited the preceding: Christmas at Holborn Bridge. It will only be necessary to read one passage more from it, which speaks of the unhappy situation of play-poets, in consequence of the closing of the theatres; and this, quotation will conclude our inquiries into this subject. "For some of our ablest ordinarie Poets, instead of their annual stipends and beneficial seconddayes, being for meere necessitie compelled to get a living by writing contemptible penny pamphlets, in which they have not so much as poetical licence to use any attribute of their profession, but that of Qui libet audendi, and faining miraculous stories and relations of unheard-of battels. Nay, it is to be fearedj that shortly some of them (if they have not been forced to do it already), will be incited to enter themselves into Martin Parker's Societie, and write ballads. And what a shame this is, great Phcebus, and you sacred Sisters, for your owne priests thus to be degraded of their ancient dignities. Be yourselves righteous Judges, when those who formerly have sung with such elegance the acts of Kings and Potentates, charming, like Orpheus, the dull and brutish multitude, scarce a degree above stones and forrests, into admiration, though not into understanding with their divine raptures, shall be by that tyrant Necessitie reduced to such abject exigents, wandring like grand-children of old Erra Paters, those learned Almanack-makers, without any Maecenas to cherish their loftie conceptions, prostituted by the mis-fortune of our silence, to inexplicable miseries, having no heavenly Castalian Sack to actuate and inform their spirits almost confounded with stupiditie and coldness, by their frequent drinking, (and glad too they can get it) of fulsome Ale, and heretical Beere, as their usuall beverage."

Morton. Martin Parker, mentioned in the quotation you just read, was a most notorious ballad scribbler—the Will Elderton of the reign of Charles I. and the Protectorate.—Having finished this inquiry, upon what do we enter to-morrow?

Bourne. This examination of the tracts, for and against theatrical representations, will very fitly introduce the subject, of which we were speaking a

« PreviousContinue »