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“ The Broken Heart” was given to the press in the same year as the foregoing piece, (1633.) It was brought out at the Black Friars ; but the date of its appearance is not known. Ford seems to have felt some alarm at the deep tragedy which he was about to develope; and he therefore takes an early opportunity, in the Prologue, to inform the audience that the story was a borrowed one, and that " what may be thought a fiction,
.... when time's youth Wanted some riper years, was known a truth.” He could not be so ignorant of history as to suppose that Sparta was ever the scene of a tragedy like this; and he probably means no more than that it was extant in some French or Italian collection of tales. But whatever may be the groundwork, it must, after all, be admitted that the story derives its main claim on our affections from the poetic powers of the author himself. They are here exerted with wonderful effect: the spell is early laid, and we have scarcely stepped within the circle, when we feel the charm too effectual to resist, and abide under it, not without occasional misgivings, till all is dissolved in the awful catastrophe. Ford was not unconscious of its merits : he had, he says, “ wrought the piece with the best of his art;" and it will not perhaps be denied that, with respect to the diction, and the deep inherent feeling of the more solemn and tragic scenes, many superior to it could not be found; in truth, it seems scarcely possible to turn back and review the beautiful passages which abound in the three plays which have been already mentioned, without placing the author in a very honourable rank among the dramatic writers of his day.
The “ Broken Heart” is dedicated, (not without the poet's usual glance at his professional industry,) in a style highly respectful, yet manly and independent, to the well-known Lord Craven ;* a nobleman worthy of all praise, and not ill chosen for the patron of a wild, a melancholy, and romantic tale.
The year 1633 must have proved auspicious to our author's fame, for it also gave to the public “ Love's Sacrifice," printed, like the former play, for Hugh Beeston. It appears to have been somewhat of a favourite ; and was ushered into the world with more than the usual accompaniments of approbation. That it has many passages of singular merit, many scenes favourable to the display of the writer's powers beautifully executed, it is impossible to deny; but the plot is altogether defective ; and the characters proceed from error to error, and from crime to crime, till they exhaust their own interest, and finally expire without care or pity. In the last exquisite drama, the lighter characters, though ill calculated to please, may yet be tolerated; but in this, they are gratuitously odious and repellent.
Something, perhaps, should be attributed to the country from which the poet derived his plot, (for there can be little doubt that it is taken from
* Some account of the active and chequered life of this eminent person may be found in “Collins's Peerage.” He is now chiefly remembered for his romantic attachment to the Queen of Bohemia, daughter of James I., to whom it is generally supposed he was privately married.
an Italian novel,) and something indulged to the ill-defined manners and language of the age, which, though, strictly speaking, not licentious, were little polished by the collision of good society, which indeed could then be scarcely said to exist. Our poet, however, entertained no misgivings of this kind; he seems, on the contrary, to have been pleased with the management of the story, (which, as the title-page informs us, was generally well received,) and, as a proof of his satisfaction, dedicates it to “ his truest friend and worthiest cousin,” John Ford, of Gray's-Inn, in a short address highly creditable to his amiable qualities, and full of respectful gratitude and affection. The year before this was written, the indefatigable Prynne had published his ponderous “ Histriomastix;” in which he collected and reproduced, with increased bitterness and rancour, all his former in vectives against the stage: to this Ford adverts with becoming warmth. “ The contempt,” he says, “ thrown on studies of this kind by such as dote on their own singularity, hath almost so outfaced invention, and proscribed judgment, that it is more safe, more wise, to be suspectedly silent, than modestly confident of opinion herein.” In this, he is supported by Shirley, who has a complimentary poem prefixed to “ Love's Sacrifice;' in which, after reproaching Prynne with his voluminous ignorance and impudence,* he calls upon him to read Ford's
* Not content with this attack on that restless “ paper worm,” as Needham calls Prynne, Shirley took a further opportunity of showing his hatred to this sore annoyance of the stage by a mock dedication of his ingenious Comedy, entitled, “The Bird in a Cage.”
Tragedy, and then turn to his own interminable farrago, which he had not only termed “ The Actors' Tragedie," as if in scorn of them, but divided into Acts and Scenes.
The admirers of Ford had by this time, apparently, supped full of horrors. Three tragedies of the deepest kind in rapid succession were probably as many as the stage would then endure from him; and in an hour not unpropitious to his reputation, he turned his thoughts to the historical drama of his own country. “Perkin Warbeck,” which appeared in 1634, and which was accompanied with more than the usual proportion of commendatory verses, is dedicated to the Earl (better known as the Duke) of Newcastle, in a strain, which shows that the Poet was fully sensible of the “ worthiness," as well as the difficulty of the subject, which he had spared no pains to overcome. It is observed in a critical notice of this drama, which appeared in 1812, that “ though the subject of it is such as to preclude the author from the high praise of original invention and fancy," a circumstance which he himself notices in the very opening of his dedication, “ the play is so admirably conducted, so adorned with poetic sentiment and expression, so full of fine discrimination of character and affecting incidents, that we cannot (continue the critics) help regarding that audience as greatly disgraced, which, having once witnessed its representation, did not ensure its perpetuity on the English stage. If any (historic) play in the language can induce us to admit the lawfulness of a comparison with Shakspeare it is this."* There is little to add to this commendation; and much cannot with justice be taken away from it. It may, however, be observed, that the language of this piece is temperately but uniformly raised; it neither bursts into the enthusiasm of passion, nor degenerates into uninteresting whining; but supports the calm dignity of historic action, and accords with the characters of the “ graced persons" who occupy the scene.
The uncommon felicity with which Ford has sustained the part of Warbeck has been elsewhere noticed; he could scarcely believe the identity of this youth with the young prince, yet he never permits a doubt of it to escape him, and thus skilfully avoids the awkwardness of shaking the credit and diminishing the interest of his chief character; for Perkin and not Henry is the hero of the play. More will be found in the notes, on this subject; but, it may be added here, that the king was probably less indebted to his armoury, than to his craft and his coffers, for the suppression of these attempts, which occasionally assumed a very threatening aspect : even the ill-judged attack on the coast, feeble as it undoubtedly was, created a considerable degree of alarm; and it appears from a letter to Sir John Paston,t " that a mightie aid of help, and succor” was earnestly requested to secure the towns of Sandwich and Yarmouth.
Notwithstanding the warm commendations of his friends on this production, Ford did not renew his acquaintance with the Historic Muse: nor, on the other hand, did he return to the deep and im
* Monthly Review.
+ Fenn's Letters, vol. v. p. 427.