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1586. John Ford was baptised at Ilsington, in Devonshire, on
April 17th. 1602. He was admitted to the Middle Temple. 1606. He published Fame's Memorial, an elegiac poem on the
death of the Earl of Devonshire, and dedicated it to the Countess. Also, a pamphlet called Honor Triumphant, - in honour of all faire ladies and in defence of these foure positions following—1, Knights in Ladies service have no free-will. 2, Beauty is the mainteiner of valour. 3, Faire
Lady was never false. 4, Perfect lovers are onely wise." 1612. The Prince of Wales died. 1613. Ford's comedy, An ill Beginning has a good End, was
acted at the Cockpit. This was one of the plays destroyed
by Warburton's cook. 1615. Ford's Sir Thomas Overbury's Life and untimely Death
(an event which had taken place two years previously), probably an elegy or a pamphlet, was entered in the
Stationers' books. 1616. Shakespeare died. 1618. Sir Walter Raleigh executed. 1620. Ford published The Line of Life, a prose pamphlet. 1622. The Witch of Edmonton, a tragedy by Rowley, Dekker,
Ford, &c., was probably acted about this time. 1624. The Sun's Darling, a masque by Ford and Dekker, was
acted at the Cockpit. 1625. Fletcher died. 1628. The Lover's Melancholy wis acted at the Blackfriars and
Globe theatres. 1631. Dryden born. 1632. Prynne published his Histrio-Mastix. 1633. 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, The Broken Heart, and Love's
Sacrifice were all printed in this year. 1634. Perkin Warbeck printed.
1635. Ben Jonson died. 1637. Hampden refused to pay ship-money. 1638. Ford's comedy, The Fancies Chaste and Noble, was printed;
and his tragi-comedy, The Lady's Trial, acted at the
Cockpit.1 1639. Massinger died. It is probable that at about this period
Ford left London to live at his native place, Ilsington. 1640. Election of the Long Parliament. . 1641. Actors lament their “sad and solitary conditions.” “ Pro
jectors are downe, the High Commission Court is downe, the Starre-Chambre is down, and (some think) Bishops will down, and why should we then that are farre inferior to , any of these justly feare, least we should be downe too."
(The Stage-Players-Complaint.) 1642. The Civil War began, the Register of the Master of the
Revels was closed, and cn the end of September was published the Ordinance of the Lords and Commons commanding “ that while these sad causes and set-times of humiliation do continue, public stage plays shall cease and be forborne.”
“Deep in a dump John Forde was alone got,
AV HAT vivid touch of portraiture
down to us concerning Ford.
position : he stands alone. Of himself he has nothing to tell us beyond one early and perhaps not over-serious allusion, in
i Other plays of Ford's, of which now only the names are known, were two comedies, The London Merchant and The Royal Combat, a tragedy called Beauty in a Trance, The Bristowe Mer.. chant and The Fairy Knight, both written in conjunction with Dekker, and A late Murther of the Sonne upon the Mother in conjunction with Webster. The three first-named plays were immolated by Warburton's cook. .
the youthful Fame's Memoriai, to an unkind mistress
“ The goddess whom in heart I serve Though never mine, bright Lycia the cruel, The cruel-subtle."
Little, also, is recorded of him ; of that little nothing that is not to his honour; while the tone of his dedications is manly, independent, and, towards his personal friends, affectionate. That he was not afraid to take a losing side is shown by his Fame's Memorial, an elegy which, called forth as it evidently was by the strange story of the lady, Penelope, Countess of Devonshire, to whom it was dedicated, is the earliest witness to Ford's interest in the problems of romantic passion.
Born in the north-west of Devonshire, and issuing from an old-established nest of Fords, while on the mother's side he was the grandson of the Lord Chief Justice Popham, John Ford came up to London at an early age to be trained to the law, becoming eventually, it is probable, a trusted agent for several noblemen, and he refers to his business with that ostentation not uncommon in people who know that their true calling is elsewhere. During the years of his London life he wrote many plays, some of which have perished; they were received with a remarkable share of applause, and gained for their author a general esteem among the decreasing minority who cared for plays. After nearly forty years spent in London he seems to have retired, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, to his native place. According to a faint tradition he married and had children, ending his days as peacefully as he might; for Ilsington was in the centre of a Royalist district, and is known to have suffered heavily at the hands of the Parliamentary forces.
Ford was more than forty years old when the earliest surviving play written by himself alone was first acted. The Lover's Melancholy, although as a whole it is rather dreary, reveals his peculiar style already at its highest point of development. This style, with its slow, subtle melody, its sudden pauses on the suspension of a long breath, its words that are gestures, has nothing of the half delirious freedom of Marlowe or Beaumont, those strong-winged poets of an earlier and more robust age. This artist wrought, laboriously, cool, lucid lines that are sometimes absolutely frozen. In his second extant play, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, Ford touched the highest point that he ever reached. He never after succeeded in presenting an image so simple, passionate, and complete, so free comparatively from mixture of weak or base elements, as that of the boy and girl lovers who were brother and sister. The tragic story is unrolled from first to last with fine truth and clear perceptions. At one point only is it possible to detect any failure in Ford's grasp of the situation. When at the climax of their histories Giovanni stabs Annabella, her feeble exclamation, “ Brother unkind !” fails to carry the impress of truth, and falls short of the tragic height of passion to which we are uplifted. Such a failure of insight is rare with Ford, much rarer than touches of extravagant physical horror like the introduction of Annabella's heart on a dagger. It is profitable to compare 'Tis Pity She's a Whore with a rather similar play by Beaumont and Fletcher, A King and no King. Dryden thought that this play was the finest that Beaumont and Fletcher ever wrote ; it is certainly full of splendid rhetoric, tragic or tender, always broad, various and facile in style ; but for the qualities of insight and sincerity, for fineness of moral perception, for the sure and deliberate grasp of the central situation, Ford's play is as far above Beaumont and Fletcher's, with its shifty conclusion, as it is below it in all the qualities which make a play effective on the stage. The Broken Heart is a monument of sorrows, a Niobe group of frozen griefs. There is little movement, no definite plot or story'; only this row of heart-broken figures-Orgilus, Panthea, Ithocles, Calantha, with many forms of minor melancholy: